Nigeria striker Odion Ighalo has rubbished claims his decision to return to national team duties will force Victor Osimhen to drop the number nine jersey in his favour.
The 32-year-old, who recently returned for the Super Eagles in the game against Cape Verde after rescinding his earlier decision to retire, said he does not care which jersey he wears for Nigeria, insisting he can do it “with his bare skin.”
Ighalo’s decision to retire saw his number nine shirt handed to Osimhen, who has also been impressive for the Super Eagles in the 2022 Fifa World Cup qualifying matches where they finished top of Group C to qualify for the play-offs.
But despite some suggestions the number nine jersey should be returned to him, Ighalo turned down the offer and said as quoted by ESPN: “A top NFF official told me I could have the number nine jersey back and I told him no. I had left it. Osimhen is using it now and coming back, I’m going to play with any jersey number.
“I told them to give me any jersey available. I can play with my bare skin for Nigeria, I’m a patriotic Nigerian. If it means me playing without a shirt in this team, I’m going to play. It’s not the shirt that scores the goals.”
Ighalo has further refused to be compared to Osimhen, insisting the latter was and will remain the top striker in the country.
“People say I’m coming to take the position but no, I’m not going to do that,” Ighalo, who retired playing for Nigeria in 2019, continued.
“Before I left the national team, I personally called Osimhen and said I’m leaving, this position is for you and if you work hard you’re going to rule Nigeria for a long time. I’m happy to see him doing well and I’m here to support him.
“And before I came back, I told the coach ‘Osimhen is the number one striker, I will just support in whatever way you want me to support and I’m here to do that.”
Osimhen, who has enjoyed a good run of form since joining Italian giants Napoli at the start of last season, could miss the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon after he underwent operation two weeks following a clash of heads with an Inter Milan defender.
Ighalo is, however, confident the 22-year-old will recover in time to travel to Cameroon because “we need Osimhen at the Nations Cup.”
“I spoke to him after his surgery to wish him well, and to tell him that this is one of those things that happen. I am praying by God’s grace for him to recover. We need Osimhen at the Nations Cup,” added the former Manchester United striker.
“He is young, he is a fighter and he will come back stronger than before and make it to the Afcon. We will see him there doing well as he has been doing because this is his time and he needs to shine.”
Nigeria will open their Afcon campaign with a Group D game against Egypt at Roumde Adjia Stadium on January 11.
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